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My Ghost

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Xander spent the first night after Sunnydale locked in his hotel room, and when the bus pulled out in the morning, he wasn't on it. He didn't want to go down to LA with the others, didn't want to be around anyone he knew just yet. Between Willow's sweetly understanding sympathy, Buffy's grief, and the younger girls' jubilance, Xander knew he'd end up snapping at someone - probably Angel, and as satisfying as it might be to take the vampire down a few notches, he knew it would be way too easy to let the usual jibes turn truly mean, and easier still to get violent if the wrong thing was said in return. Better all around if he just stayed away for a few days, until he was more in control.

He hugged the girls and waved good-bye as they got on the bus and headed towards LA, then rented a car and drove in the opposite direction without any particular destination in mind. But it was nice to be on the road, to let the wind and sun and quiet ease a little of his grief. He wasn't exactly sure when he decided to check out San Francisco, but somehow or other, he wound up paying for a week at the Marriott, putting his credit card down and trying not to think about how Anya would've been fretting over interest rates while he watched the desk clerk ring him up. But when he was ushered up to his room, there was no way to keep from imagining her joy at the jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. Xander wasn't even going to think about what she'd have said about the huge bed with the down comforter and large, fluffy pillows. Not that it really mattered, when whatever bed he slept in would be empty, just like it had been last night and would be tomorrow night.

After tipping the bellhop, Xander stripped and climbed into bed, where sleep came easier than he'd expected. Apparently a day spent on the road was a pretty good cure for insomnia - he didn't wake up for the better part of twelve hours, and it was the best night's sleep he'd had in almost a year. He showered and went downstairs for breakfast in the hotel lounge, then headed out to explore the city, deciding to leave the car behind in favor of riding the cable cars. They were smaller than he'd thought they were, cramped and not nearly as fun as they looked on TVs or movies, but he couldn't deny that it was still pretty cool, the way it shuddered as it went up and down the steep hills.

He ended up at the zoo, where he wandered through the various exhibits, starting with the giraffes. He gave the hyenas a wide berth, snickered over the zebras, lingered in the butterfly garden, and told himself that the only reason he went by the lion's den three times was because he was lost, not that it had anything at all to do with the way the soft feeding growls reminded him of a certain blond menace. When he found himself staring at a little blonde girl cuddling a rabbit and thinking of how Anya would've been insisting he go 'save that child who clearly lacks either the good sense or parental supervision to know enough to stay away from bunnies', Xander knew it was time to leave.

It was too early to go back to the hotel and face the luxurious room with its jacuzzi tub and big, empty bed, so he walked around for a while, enjoying the rhythm of the city and bustle of the people. He stopped in at a bar that had a 'San Francisco's Best Burger' sign in the window, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the burger more than earned its title. When he was finished, he intended to pay up and start back to the hotel, but he ended up ordering a beer and watching the pool tables instead.

Some things were universal: the slow circle around the table that was closer to a stalk, the intent looks on the players' faces, the satisfied smile when something connected just right and the ball dropped into the pocket, all were as familiar to him as breathing, and for half a second, Xander almost expected to hear a rough voice demanding he 'shift your ass, Harris - those blokes over there are good for at least a hundred.' He smiled a little sadly and finished his beer, then signalled the waitress for another. While he waited for it, he studied the pool players more closely, trying to see if he could pick out any likely prospects. Not that he intended to play; he was only moderately good at best, and that was before he'd lost his eye. Spike's claims aside, pool hadn't been all that effective a therapy for his depth-perception problems.

There were only three tables, and Xander immediately discounted the bikers at the back, as well as the construction workers in front. But the college students in the middle would've been ripe for the picking, and he let his mind wander as he watched them, idly constructing a scenario where his bumbling and Spike's eagle-eyed expertise would've paid for dinner and more than enough beer to get him pleasantly hammered. They'd done that often enough over the last year, gone out to shoot pool when the Summers house got too claustrophobic or Spike's soul sent him spiralling down into nightmares and darkness, and Xander had relied on Spike's vampiric constitution and strength to see him home. He'd rarely woken up alone the next day, but that was another story entirely...

As though he sensed they were being watched, one of the college kids looked up from the tables, his eyes meeting Xander's, and Xander sucked in a sharp breath at the unexpected kick of desire that flashed through him. Jesus, he hadn't had nearly enough beer for this! He took a long swig from his bottle, and if his gaze slid down the kid's body as he straightened up, lingering a little at his waist, where he could see a teasing glimpse of skin between the hem of his shirt and his pants, it was purely coincidental. Tearing his eyes away, he looked over to the biker gang, trying to concentrate on their game instead, but he kept drifting back to the middle table as though drawn by a magnet.

The kid was lanky and lean, and Xander might've written him off as an innocent, but something about him seemed familiar. He watched him play two more games, getting steadily better with each one, before he realized it. The way he walked around the table, the line of his body as he leaned over to get a better shot, the sidelong look towards Xander... it had that same predatory air that Spike always used to put on when he was showing off. Whoever the kid was, he knew what he was doing, cleaning out his opponent's pockets with a thoroughness that told Xander this wasn't his first time, or even probably his hundredth.

He won the last game easily, and Xander wasn't all that surprised when he pocketed his winnings, laid his cue down on the felt, and walked over to Xander's table. "Hi, I saw you watching us. I'm Sam," he said, offering an easy, open smile.

"I'm Will." It popped out before he could really think about it, the name rolling as easily off his tongue now as it used to when he was in Sunnydale, loose and warm from a few too many beers.

Sam nodded and offered his hand. "Nice to meet you, Will." The handshake lingered for a few moments, Sam's fingers curling in to rub over Xander's palm as they parted. "Listen, I hope you don't think this is too forward or anything, but -"

"Would you like to come back to my hotel with me?" Xander blurted out. He was pretty sure the kid had been about to ask him to join him for a game, and he didn't think he could take watching someone else flirt with him over a pool table. Not yet, anyway.

Hazel eyes widened briefly, clear surprise flitting across Sam's features, and Xander was about to excuse himself and leave, certain he'd made a mistake, when Sam leaned down and kissed him. It wasn't much, just a light press of Sam's lips against his, but there was enough promise there that he was glad when Sam straightened and grinned at him. "How's that for an answer?"

Xander licked his lips and drained his bottle, then tossed a twenty dollar bill on the table. Standing up from his seat, he was surprised to discover that Sam was taller than he'd expected, with a good four or five inches on him, but he didn't let that stop him from hooking two fingers in one of the guy's belt loops and tugging him in close for a longer, wetter kiss. "C'mon, let's go."

Tonight, at least, that big bed at the hotel didn't have to be empty.